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Vivisection (Cancer Research)

Volume 480: debated on Tuesday 31 October 1950

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Sparks.]

10.0 p.m.

Having listened to the Debate on the King's Speech during the whole of the day and knowing its simplicity and practical nature and the means by which its proposals can be carried out, and having heard the controversial way in which it has been received, I am wondering how the matter I am now raising, which is probably one of the most controversial which could be brought up in this House, will be heard. The House is, however, always very generous if a Member is conscientious in his duty of bringing a menace or grievance to its notice, and it is in that spirit that I have the privilege of addressing the House tonight.

The facts which I possess which give rise to the statements I am making are produced entirely by the Home Office and by the Chief Medical Officer of Health in their official annual reports. There has, of course, been much clinical work in connection with Cancer, but, in the main, medical science has apparently adopted one method of research only in regard to the terrible scourge of cancer, namely, the vivisection of living animals performed under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876.

These experiments, which are, in the words of the Act, "calculated to give pain," include cutting operations to remove internal organs or other parts of the animal, inoculations, experimental burns, feeding on diets that produce disease or slow starvation, testing drugs on any animals desired, domestic or otherwise, including horses, dogs, cats, goats, guinea pigs, monkeys, rabbits and many other animals which have been sacrificed by the million for this purpose.

Vivisection is, however, practised by a comparatively small number of men and women, who should not be confused with medical practitioners, few of whom have any acquaintance at all with it. It is doubtful whether this cruel practice is of any real value in the treatment of human disease. It is undeniable that it has led to confusion and contradictory statements, the introduction of dangerous medical treatments, and a deplorable waste of public money, while health-promoting measures have been neglected. No final conclusions can ever be reached from these experiments, which merely lead to further experimentation, and the claims of any one of which must still find their final test by experiments on human beings.

I am dealing now with cancer, however, and with that alone. In 1904, the first year for which I have any official record, there were 8,292 experiments on animals for cancer research. Increasing steadily almost every year, the figures reached the record of 75,343 in 1949. About two-thirds of these are conducted without any anaesthetics for the animals concerned; 80 per cent. of them are allowed to recover and can be experimented on again; and only about 1 per cent. of the experiments are conducted entirely under anaesthetics. The total number of experiments during the last half century in connection with cancer research alone in Great Britain has exceeded 1,300,000.

Although papers on the experiments are contributed to the medical journals by some of the research workers, no official report is ever issued of the result of any of these experiments, the whole of which are conducted behind closed doors in absolute secrecy. No inkling is given of what goes on, except what is volunteered by the vivisectionists themselves, who are unlikely to record anything affecting the suffering of the animals or useless or unsuccessful experiments. No inspection is permitted to anyone except to the few officials appointed by the Home Office, all of whom, I believe, are themselves trained vivisectors. They issue no report that is available to the public, who are kept in almost entire ignorance of the use, result or method of these experiments.

The money spent on this purpose has been enormous and is estimated at between £10 and £20 million during the past half century, including large Government grants and annual subsidies, substantial collections from a gullible public, supplemented, to their shame, by well-known individuals who lend their names to this practice, and who have provided millions of pounds for the purpose of vivisection for cancer research. Similar experiments have been conducted in almost every one of the great countries, notably the United States of America, France, Germany, Italy, the U.S.S.R., Holland, Belgium and others.

Indeed, there has been no barrier in money, time or effort to providing every opportunity to conduct these experiments over such a wide field with almost unlimited funds during the last century. Many details in confirmation of these facts can be found in a book entitled "Cancer, the Failure of Modern Research" by Dr. Beddow Bayly.

What are the results? Deaths from cancer in Great Britain in 1900, 50 years ago, were 26,721 and last year there were 80,732—more than three times as many. Cancer is now the largest single factor in the causation of death in this country and more than 2,900,000 have died from it in the last half century. That is more than double the number killed in both great World Wars—the Boer War and all the other minor wars including all those killed in the Forces and civilians in which we have been engaged in the last half-century.

During every one of the whole of those 50 years there has been an increase in the number of deaths and the increase in the mortality per million living has been 828 per million 50 years ago to 1,852 per million in 1949. It was less than 300 per million a century ago. During this period we have seen a substantial improvement in living conditions, hygiene, housing and medical and social welfare which shows an improvement in the incidence of almost every other disease. This position not only applies to this country but to practically every other country in which these experiments are conducted and in which similar information is available.

In the same period of time the death rate from almost every other disease has dropped. For example, deaths from measles have dropped from 12,710 in 1900 to 308 last year; from whooping cough from 11,467 in 1900 to 528 in 1949, from scarlet fever from 3,844 in 1900 to 20 in 1949. Influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia, enteritis, diarrhoea all show similar declines in deaths.

Can anyone justify the continuation of such useless, cruel and unnecessary experiments? Is there any department of science or business which, after such extensive experimentation and with such negligible results can justify a continuation of this form of research? There were 1,300,000 experiments on animals and 2,900,000 deaths from cancer in the last 50 years, 75,000 experiments last year and more than 80,000 deaths.

It is true that almost every year some new claim has been made that cancer can be cured as a result of these experiments, only to be repudiated by facts and results within 12 months. Hopes are raised for those afflicted only to be dashed to the ground when tested by realities. The futility of the argument that an experiment for cancer on an animal has the same or a similar result in a human being must be obvious, and it is well known that in many cases the contrary is the fact. Although many experiments have been adopted in laboratories, all have turned out to be blind alleys and there should be no further delay in abandoning this useless line of animal experimentation and in concentrating our energies in an entirely new direction, by the study of cancer as it occurs spontaneously in man, and in relationship to every aspect of his daily life, which has been hitherto almost entirely neglected and even scoffed at by believers in vivisection. As the "Lancet" said on 6th August, 1949:
"Most people in Great Britain regard laboratory experiments on living animals as an unpleasant necessity.…"
I ask, is this unpleasant business really a necessity? Whether the pain and torture inflicted on these defenceless animals is justified because of some supposed relief of suffering to mankind is open to question, but, after this long period of time with millions of experiments and no commensurate relief to humanity, there is no justification for the continuation of these useless and futile experiments. This crime will, in my opinion, go down in history as one of the blackest ever committed by human beings. Until those concerned can show some justification for these experiments, no fresh licence should be given to anyone to continue them, and every licence issued should be cancelled at the earliest possible moment.

On the other hand, every other avenue of research should be investigated. If one-tenth of the time, money and energy were spent in this way, I am convinced that it would disclose the cause of and the remedy for this great scourge. It is not my duty to indicate the possibilities of relieving or curing cancer but the line of research which can and should be followed is that indicated by reason and common sense. I am glad that the Minister of Health has at last appointed a committee to inquire into one of these claims. We shall await that report with some interest. But this does not, of course, investigate the cause of cancer, and until we have ascertained the cause every cure must be a mere jump in the dark.

Cancer is found generally in middle-aged or elderly people, more in women than in men, usually after middle life, but it has recently been found in children. It usually attacks the softer and more sensitive parts of the body—the skin, the breasts, ovary, stomach and other internal organs, scrotum and lips. It does not generally appear to be hereditary or contagious, but there may be a predisposition to cancer as it has been found in recent years in small children and even in babies. Its origin is hidden, it generally causes little pain at its inception, and it is not usually inflammatory. It develops slowly but with great persistence. When it appears to be cured in one area of the body it is often found to appear in another very soon, and its tentacles, like those of an octopus, grip the victim with ever increasing tenacity.

It is mainly found in highly industrial areas of the world, where the stress and strain of life is greater. It is more often found in urban than in rural areas. It is least found in countries like India, in spite of the terrible poverty, lack of food and even hygienic conditions, and is apparently almost absent in many native countries of Africa. In Ceylon, the incidence is under one in 10,000 of the population compared with Great Britain—where it is the highest in the world though in Switzerland and the United States it is nearly as high—with more than 18.5 in 10,000.

What new factors have arisen in the last century in these countries to account for this increase in cancer? It seems that along those lines we can best hope to find an answer. Cancer appears to be caused by some variety of irritation of the nervous system, and with man's highly sensitive body repeated irritation sets up, generally after a long period of time, the cancerous condition of the physical body which, once developed, is most difficult to restrain. What are those causes? I mention some of them—they are not suggestions of my own, they have been suggested by others of wider knowledge than mine from time to time as possible causes of cancer.

The first is certain psychological causes which have undoubtedly vastly increased in modern times, such as fear, worry, anxiety, rush and hurry. These may leave some permanent effect on the modern highly-strung sensitive organism, and may lead to such irritation of the nervous system as to cause cancer. Noise and smell, the increase of which has been phenomenal and which impinges on two of the most sensitive organs of the body in turn may jar the nervous system and set up irritation, leading to cancer. Our modern industrial system, with its mechanical machines—trains, buses, motors, hooters, sirens, automatic drills—and continual artificial noises of loud speakers, cinemas and wireless—leave no opportunity for repose, rest, quiet or relaxation. The noxious fumes and gases emanating from factories and machines pollute the atmosphere, and the sense of smell has been almost eliminated in some people. The increase during the last century or so of the consumption of alcohol, tobacco narcotics and drugs and the poisonous effects by regular daily use on man's sensitive organism is another possible factor. We are consuming about two and a half times as much tobacco per head of the population, for example compared with 50 years ago, in spite of the fact that the duty is now 20 times greater than it was then. While it may be innocuous and harmless in itself, I cannot believe that in the case of nursing mothers and small children, inhaling smoke and chain-smoking can have anything but a disastrous effect on their nervous system and permanent health.

Diet, with its large increase in the use of animal and artificially prepared foods in modern times, is another possibility, especially as I was told only recently of a case which occurred in South Wales of a chief sanitary inspector who reported that 16 per cent. of 2,000 cattle slaughtered recently were entirely condemned because of tuberculosis; and over 50 per cent. in whole or in part condemned for some other reason. In other words, two-thirds of the total number killed were found to be diseased in some form or another.

The modern craze for the so-called pasteurisation of milk is another factor. Many people believe and are under the delusion that somehow pasteurisation cleanses, purifies or renders the milk less harmful. It does nothing of the kind. The impurity or the dirt which was there is still there after pasteurisation. Any disease from the cow is still in the milk and may be passed on to the child; and I have shown that in some cases two-thirds of the cattle are diseased. The living organisms in the milk has been destroyed. The dead germs and all the toxins produced by these germs, which are unaltered by pasteurisation, are still there and this concoction is swallowed by the child. The recent increase in the use of cow's milk and the modern craze for pasteurisation may account for the recent increases of cancer in small children which has hitherto been almost entirely unknown.

I would also mention patent medicines, with their unrestricted sales and the modern craze for injections, serums, toxins, inoculations and vaccinations, each of which forces poisons of different kinds—many of the most objectionable character—directly into the system. This may also be one of the sources of this dread disease. Any one of these, or a combination of two or more, or even all of them, may be the fundamental cause of cancer which appears to be of a personal character, and varies in every individual concerned. But all these factors are largely under the control of each person, to avoid or minimise if he wishes to do so. On the whole he is at present unaware of any permanent ill effect upon his body, but it can be noted that where these factors are less, such as in India and Ceylon, cancer is at a minimum. It must also be noticed that none of these factors can possibly apply to animals, and that is why, for a further obvious reason, experiments on animals are useless for discovering its cause.

There is no doubt that if volunteers were asked for there would be an overwhelming response from men and women who would be prepared to submit to any reasonable experiment; particularly if it is intended not only for the cure or abolition of this dreaded scourge, but to relieve the cruelty perpetrated on animals. I therefore ask for a full impartial inquiry into this whole matter of experiments on living animals for the purpose of cancer research. If that cannot be agreed to this evening by the Under-Secretary, I hope that his will not be the last word on this matter but that there will be an opportunity provided for some inquiry at some later date.

10.18 p.m.

I shall detain the House only for one brief moment. That there should be some thought by animal lovers for animals in this field of experimentation is natural. But that there should be the assertion that animal experimentation is futile, is to fly in the face of facts that apply in this country, of the enormous amount achieved in the prevention and treatment of disease by animal experimentation. I particularly regret the note of relish in the statement of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Peter Freeman) that as yet the problem of cancer is not solved. We need not the woolly assertions in which the hon. Member described almost every human activity, in the hope that one might subsequently prove to be the cause of cancer, but we need widespread and scientific experiments, including, if necessary, experiments on animals, in order to find the cause of this dread disease.

The hon. Member did not tell the House that at least one form of cancer has been successfully studied and is now curable as a result of animal experimentation. He denied, indeed he ignored, the enormous benefits to humanity in this and other fields from animal experiments, and he preferred his woolly assertions to the calm and cold findings of science, based in large part on animal experimentation. I prefer to see animals used for the attempts to induce cancerous growth than to have human beings used for the purpose. I hope that the remarks that he has made will receive the contemptuous fate that they deserve at the hands of those who would prefer to proceed by the cold method of scientific examination rather than by the windy assertion of generalities without a foundation of scientific examination or fact.

10.21 p.m.

One hundred years ago in the then new Chamber the first Minister to reply to a Debate was the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Tonight, it is my privilege, in this new Chamber, to be the first Minister to reply to a Debate, and I do so as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department.

Our concern for the welfare of animals is a well recognised national characteristic, and it is in accordance with our traditions that, even when there are many weighty problems at home and abroad to be considered, we should take time to discuss on this the first day of a new Session a matter such as vivisection. After all, we were the first body to legislate to try to prevent cruelty to animals. We did it a long time ago, at the beginning of the last century, in 1822. But, as my hon. Friend has reminded us, the legislation under which the Home Secretary works today is the Act of 1876. That Act forbids any experiment calculated to give pain to any living vertebrate animal, except under certain conditions.

I wish to remind the House of those conditions. First, the experiments must be with a view to the advancement of knowledge for saving life or alleviating suffering. The second condition is that no experiment may be performed without a permit from the Home Secretary. These permits are of two kinds. First, there is the licence and, secondly, the licence coupled with a certificate. Nearly all cancer research experiments require that the animal should live after the experiment. This means that there must be a special certificate from the Home Secretary, which brings the case within the second category of a licence coupled with a certificate. The safeguards demanded by the Act are very severe indeed. Even the application for a licence requires the supporting recommendation set out in Section 11 of the Act, of the president of a learned society as well as of a professor of some branch of medical science. Again, the licences have strict conditions attached to them, for example, as to inspection and approval of the place of experiment and as to keeping records of experiments available to Home Office inspectors. My hon. Friend may not have realised that. The inspectors can call at any time.

As I explained a moment ago, for nearly all cancer experiments a special certificate from the Home Office is required in addition to the licence. These special certificates are not granted easily. In considering an application for a certificate our inspectors in the Home Office have regard not only to the applicant's knowledge, experience and ability to perform the experiment, but also to the suitability of the place of experiment. Over the years the Home Office has built up wide knowledge of the people and the places concerned. It is on this wide knowledge and experience that the inspectors are able to advise the Home Secretary whether a certificate should be granted or not.

It is of great importance, and a great comfort for all those who share, with most of us in this Chamber, a real affection for animals, to realise just what animals are involved in these experiments. The vast majority are small rodents, chiefly mice, but occasionally rats or guineas pigs. Cats and dogs, for instance, are seldom used. In the last two years, the total number of experiments on cats has been 24 and, on dogs, 28, out of the tens of thousands mentioned by my hon. Friend. The vast numbers he quoted, in connection with the last few years, have related almost entirely, or at any rate in the largest proportion, to experiments on mice.

The most usual experiment is when a substance such as coal tar is applied to a small part of the skin of the mouse, or when a small amount of such a substance is added to its diet. Very seldom indeed is there any question of a major operation, and the large figures that were given relate, of course, to experiments and not to animals. If a mouse is treated with coal tar once and is then treated again that counts as two experiments.

I am not qualified, either by training or experience, or by the advice given to me in my own Department, to discuss the merits of this method of cancer research; nor can I give any undertaking that inquiries will be made into other possible fields of research. I shall limit myself to two points. The first is that, in the Registrar-General's Statistical Review in the Comparative Mortality Index, which allows for the effect of changes in the age distribution of the population, the tables show that there is no increase in the death-rate from cancer. In fact, the rate has remained fairly constant from year to year over the last 20 years, and there has been a slight reduction each year in the mortality of women.

The second point is that I have before me a note by the Medical Research Council from which I would like to read an extract. I have only time for a short extract, but it is important. This is the Medical Research Council commenting on the contribution made by experiments on animals to cancer research, and is directly contrary to the statements made by my hon. Friend. I quote:
"There seems to be general agreement that most of the advances which have been made recently in our knowledge of the causation and treatment of various forms of cancer would have been impossible without experimental work on animals. Indeed, there is no form of medical research which has been more dependent on animal work.
On the preventive side, the report goes on to state:
"Substances to which human beings may he exposed can be tested in animals for their tumour producing properties.…This research has made possible the protection of many thousands of industrial workers."
I have tried to show that it is incorrect to think of this research work as causing great suffering. I have tried to show that nearly all the experiments are on mice. I have quoted the opinion of the Medical Research Council on the value of this work. I have tried to show that in accordance with the tradition in this country that the State should concern itself with the suffering of animals, the Home Secretary, carrying out the wishes of Parliament, controls all experiments on animals in the field of cancer research, as in other fields. I ask the House to agree with me that this control is most carefully exercised.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.